Catastrophe in Gaza – How Can the Cycle of Violence Be Stopped?

Catastrophe in Gaza – How Can the Cycle of Violence Be Stopped?

We are faced with an alarming escalation of violence in what we refer to as the “Holy Land”. This land is held in reverence by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and yet has become the locus for violence, brutality and senseless violence and an endless cycle of revenge. How can this show our respect and love for the Holy Land?

This most recent cycle has involved a series of revenge attacks by Israel on the people of Gaza followed by a revenge attack on Israeli students by a Palestinian. “They” do something, “we” get revenge, going back in time possibly to Cain and Abel. Somehow, some way we have to find a way out of this terrible cycle. The ripples of pain and anguish and hatred are spreading and those immediately involved don’t seem any longer capable of hearing the voices and pleas of those of us who are desperately trying to hold on to the hope that it is possible to find a peaceful and just solution.

It has been reported that some Palestinians went into the streets and celebrated. If this is true, it is disgusting.

The anguish of ordinary Muslims can be heard in an article by Tariq Nelson Return to Sender in which he says: “STAMP THIS specious variety of “Islam” which celebrates the slaughter of children Return to Sender. We have no need for it here in the United States and they can stop trying to feed it to us. … I cannot understand how this can happen, or how they can try to say that THIS IS ISLAM?? They say that this filth is our religion???”

The anguish of ordinary Jews can be heard in these words from my friend Rabbi Waskow in an email earlier today:

“And the news arrives of disgusting murders in Jerusalem, and a huge death toll from a bombing in Baghdad, and the worst humanitarian crisis in Gaza in the whole forty years of Israeli occupation, all on top of dozens of civilian deaths in Gaza from Israeli attacks there last weekend.

Could it be any clearer that this tit-for-tat violence does NOT stop the “other side”— whichever side they are—from more violence, but actually ratchets up the rage, the despair, that fuels still more?

Could it be any clearer that all the land that Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah walked – from what is now Iraq to what are now Israel and Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia – needs a regional peace agreement?

Could it be any clearer that Israel needs to talk with Hamas as well as the Palestinian Authority, that the two Palestinian governments need to talk with each other, that all three need to take the first steps in a long path of mutual peacemaking by simply discussing the terms of a ceasefire with each other?”

And, in the words of Rabbi Michael Lerner:

“From our standpoint, all violence, whether overt or built into the institutions of economic and political reality, is a sin and unacceptable, whether done by the powerful or the powerless. Violence is the wrong path. So this week in Beyt Tikkun synagogue we will say kaddish for the young men killed at the yeshivat ha rav, and for the people killed in Gaza by Israeli troops, Israelis killed in Sderot and Ashkelon, and for the million two hundred thousand Iraqis killed by the US occupation of Iraq and the 4000 American soldiers killed in that war. And all the victims of wars in Africa and Asia, all the victims of oppression and murder in China and Tibet, all the victims of oppression in Saudi Arabia and Iran and Lebanon and Syria and Egypt.”

American Muslims stand firm in our commitment to finding peaceful solutions to problems and doing everything we can to discourage those who carry out such acts as we stated in the “Not in the Name of Islam” petition produced a few years ago: “We, the undersigned Muslims, wish to state clearly that those who commit acts of terror, murder and cruelty in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives, but are also betraying the values of the faith they claim to represent. No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam. We repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts. We refuse to allow our faith to be held hostage by the criminal actions of a tiny minority acting outside the teachings of both the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.”

The American Muslim condemnation of such actions is based on our understanding of Islam and our belief that such actions do not represent Islam, and are in fact vicious, immoral, and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. Whoever has perpetrated such a crime should be apprehended and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Somehow we must find a way to reassert the spiritual dimensions of the Abrahamic faiths and use that spiritual strength to resist the powers of darkness that are blighting all of our lives. As Hesham Hassaballa has notee, violence extinguishes the light of Islam – and the light of all religion.

And, as Mirza Beg has pointed out, we must find a way to make 2008 and the future better: “The warmongers had their run. They have sown terrible death and destruction. They have the power of the latest weapons, but they suffer a great disadvantage. They have to be against others to be hegemonic. They thrive on hatred, pitting “us” against “them”. The ideals of peace and of consideration of others as human beings may appear to be powerless, but they have one great advantage. They can unite across the false divide created by forces of ignorance and war. They extend a hand of friendship across the artificial divide. They can erase the dishonest divide.”

In the last month Muslim scholars issued a Statement to the World’s Jewish Community calling for dialogue and peace. One passage from that statement is important in the context of this most recent tragedy:

“At this moment, there is no challenge more pressing than the need to bring to a closure some of the historical and long lasting estrangements between the Jews and Muslims. Because of the increasing polarisation, many feel forced to choose between dialogue and violence as a response. At the core of the Muslim—Jewish tension lies the Israeli—Palestinian conflict. The loss of every single life is a loss to humanity and a bloody stain on the tapestry of history. We call for a peaceful resolution that will assure mutual respect, prosperity and security to both Palestinians and Israelis, while allowing the Palestinian people their rights to self-determination.”

Those of us who are anguished and heart broken over this violence must resist the temptation to despair, and continue to do whatever we can to dialogue, to heal, and to repair what is so badly broken. We must join hands with all Muslims, Christians, and Jews who hold on to this hope and somehow hear “them” hear that “we” are all losing. All of the children of Abraham are being destroyed by this. Those who are dying are “our” children. How many more of our children must we bury?

As the Qur’an tells us: “Respond with that which is better, so that he, between whom and you there was animosity, shall be like an intimate friend. And none shall be accorded this rank except those who have stood fast, and none shall be accorded it except one blessed with great good fortune.” 41:34-35

I don’t believe that any of Abraham’s children are following the teachings of their respective faiths. Muhammad, Jesus, Abraham, and Moses, and all the prophets would certainly not approve of what we are doing, and they wouldn’t recognize such barbaric behavior as having any connection to anything that they taught. The only way that we can show respect for them is to find a way to get along.

We have forgotten the legacy of Abraham – forgotten that to be blessed and to be a blessing we must be like Abraham and compete only in doing good and we have not been much of a blessing to the world

From the time of Isaac and Ishmael until today we have fought over Abraham and his heritage. Perhaps we can find a way through dialogue and building relationships to bring reconciliation – even Isaac and Ishmael reconciled and came together to bury Abraham. Perhaps we – Abraham’s unruly children can do the same. For now, the children of Ishmael are burying their children and the children of Isaac are burying their children, and we can’t even come together to mourn for the terrible loss we share. These terrible divisions are not the result of religion, but religious people must play a part in bringing this to an end.

We are at a crossroads, where we now stand is the point from which we now have to face our future together. Whether or not we participate, or watch from the sidelines, we will be effected by the direction history moves from this crossroads. I don’t have the answer, but I know it will not be found in more violence, and it can only be found together.