Kudos this week to the Christian Century (CC) magazine, for its statement on the Hamas/Israeli war. They were not quick to run to the pundit barricades; when Hamas attacked, despite their shock, they grabbed their knees and kept them from jerking. They thought and struggled about it; their struggle likely continues.
And their considered editorial answer was –for me at least — clarifying. In sum, they said: the situation is complex as hell. (That’s my paraphrase.) More precisely:
From “Bearing Witness to Multiple Stories” (11/6/2023):
“Every conflict involves competing stories, but often one story clearly embodies far more truth than the other. Not in this case. Each of the two stories sketched out here [Palestinian & Israeli] is factually sound, historically informed, and morally compelling. Both stories are true.
And they are heartbreaking and tragic. Both are stories of people who love the land and deserve to live there in peace. Peace has long been stymied by political missteps, cycles of violence, and interventions by those who can only see one story’s truth. For US Christians, bearing witness to this conflict begins with recognizing that it contains more than one true story.”
My only quibbles with the editorial are two: First, I prefer to avoid arguing over “what is truth?” (a rabbit hole wrangle that goes right back to the gospels, when Jesus faced off with Pilate, in Matthew 18: 37-38):
“For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth,” Jesus said. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked.
I suspect Pilate wasn’t just asking a rhetorical question. And if he did not know the absolute “truth,” I don’t either. Further, I’m suspicious about the whole exchange: it reeks of early Christian anti-Jewish polemic, and words about “belonging to the truth” being put in Jesus’ mouth by Jew-hating redactors. But let’s not go there.
Instead, what I have is, not incontestable “truths”, but convictions: stories, experiences, arguments and the results of study, that are personally convincing. They might change, but now I stand up for them.
My second quibble with CC is about another word that recurs in their text. The word is: both.
Which means two. The CC editors presume there are only two stories involved here.
Nope. There are many; thousands, from the heights of worldly power in the White House, to Peking, Moscow and Teheran, down to the the last of the Israelis lying dead around the shattered “peace” music festival, and the hostages and Palestinian children buried by bombs in collapsed Gaza buildings and tunnels. More “stories” proliferate every day.
The word “both” is small, but my quibble is not. “Both” points us to a binary: either/or. Which side are you on? Which side am I?
But one of my “truths” (scratch that: convictions) is in harmony with those of the CC editors: that there are more than two sides — more than two “truths”, two stories, and convictions– here, at least for me, and for not less than a few others.
One of the others is James Jennings, who posted on Facebook in late October. I don’t know Jennings, and maybe we wouldn’t agree on anything else, but his cri de couer, in Quaker talk, powerfully spoke to my condition. Here are clips:
I refuse to take sides in this conflict. The only side I’m committed to is peace and justice. There are good and bad people, innocent and guilty people on both sides.
If you look at the totality of the conflict over the last 75 years, I think the Palestinians are the more mistreated, but past mistreatment is no excuse for violence by the Palestinians. Also, hatred of anti-Semitism doesn’t provide a pass to the Israeli government.
Criticizing Hamas doesn’t mean that I’m anti-Palestinian. Criticizing Israel’s government doesn’t mean that I’m anti-Jewish.
Because I love the Palestinian people, I recognize that Hamas is the worst thing that can happen to them (which is why Netanyahu has supported and funded them.) Because I love the Jewish people, I recognize that the Israeli government’s disregard for life is the worst thing to happen to them.
One thing I can say though–as soon as someone says that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic, I know that logic, fairness, reality, and truth has been replaced by fear and prejudice, and there’s nothing to be gained by discussing it with them. I also know that I rarely have friends who say that criticizing Hamas means that I’m anti-Palestinian. . . .
Netanyahu has not (as far as I know) personally picked up a gun and killed anyone. The same is true of the leadership of Hamas (most don’t even live in Gaza). If you pay attention to this (I do, because I have Palestinian friends. Until I met them, I didn’t pay attention) there are nearly daily reports of questionable shootings and detaining of Palestinians by IDF and Jewish settlers (in the execution of the criminal theft of Palestinian land and property).
Netanyahu (and his extremist peers) create the policies and fund these actions. Sure, Bibi justifies them by claiming (with little evidence) that it’s because civilians were used as shields, or they were terrorists, or other questionable excuses but far too many are entirely unwarranted.
Bibi is more than simply incompetent. He is culpable… as are those who continue to defend him.
Hamas is more than simply incompetent. They are culpable… as are those who continue to defend them.
That’s Jennings’ witness. I don’t endorse every word of it, but most, and I bow to his plain speaking and courage. It gives me a push to be more clear about my convictions.
You’ve already heard the first, that of rejecting the either/or binary: there are many “sides” involved in this war, past and present.
Here are some more convictions, not necessarily in priority order:
1. “Israel,” a Jewish homeland, is a legitimate project. Why do I accept that? Two reasons:
A. History. And
(For further detail, there are shelves of books to consult. Also Yad Vashem.)
2. The Palestinians deserve and have long been denied, justice and reparations, by Israel and many others. Does this equal the “two-state” plan? More or less; it’s the best I’ve seen, even if it may now seem impossible. Yet it seems no less impossible than the notion that continuous war, interrupted by false periods of truce (filled with overt/covert planning for more wars) can produce security/stability.
3. Jennings is right that the Netanyahu “government” is an utter calamity for the Israeli nation, wrapped in fanaticism, sealed with corruption and terminally incompetent. Will the nation survive his reign? Even its most determined friends, and many Israelis, are no longer sure. If one reads their scriptures, the stories should give them chills: it says God “gave” them the land; but then let their follies and corruption take them into exile, and thence to live under the thumbs of a long parade of brutal empires, before being scattered.
4. Jennings is likewise right that Hamas is the worst imaginable vehicle for Palestinian resistance and hopes for justice. I have read its original 1988 Charter and its 2017 update. The first is a combination of theocratic Islamist imperialism and a rehash of some of the worst genocidal leftovers from Holocaust ideology, down to (and including) citation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the old charges that Jews instigated both world wars (yes, including the Second, that killed six million Jews). The 2017 update ditched much of this old blood-drenched boilerplate, but obviously preserved the spirit, which was wreaked by terror on Gazans for years, and built remorselessly to October 7.
5. Anguish for all the victims. For the thousands dead, at least their suffering is over. But the survivors? The depth of trauma and rage are beyond measure. In so many of their faces, one can clearly see that the seeds of future wars have been sown before our eyes, and they are fertilized with every bomb and rocket.
6. Caution about the “movements” burgeoning among non-combatant partisans in America and Europe, on campuses and in the streets. The urge to “do something” and FOMO can be overwhelming; but many protesters are at risk of becoming pawns of bad faith antagonists. I wish they would think twice and three times before repeating that massacre-mantra, “From the river to the sea”. [The text is lifted from the Hamas Charter of 2017, Article 20). Is it in substance any better than the taunt by Amihai Eliyahu? He is the now suspended Israeli “culture minister” who sneered at permitting humanitarian aid to Gaza because, “We wouldn’t hand the Nazis humanitarian aid… there is no such thing as uninvolved civilians in Gaza” — even the babies?
And beware the fear of being shown up as ineffectual bystanders (which, in cold fact, is what almost all of us on this side of the ocean are. To get a more accurate perspective, watch the highest U.S. officials returning to Washington from top-level consultations empty-handed, all but tossed out like unwelcome door-to-door-salesmen.) Some old lefties in my cohort think they see in the latest poster-waving phalanxes the resurrection of the anti war movement many of us joined, which waxed and waned from the late 1940s through its demise in January 2007. I think that’s wishful thinking, but we’ll see.
7. And a shout-out to the dreamers, like me, who reject the binary, and believe we discern an almost entirely eclipsed rightness in this jumble of convictions, and decline to Join the partisans’ cheering sections. (Exodus 23:2: Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil . . . .)
James Jennings says it well:
I encourage you to not take sides in this. God did NOT give that land to the Jews. Whatever your view of scripture, it is clear that the land was given to Abraham’s seed, which includes Ishmael [the biblical ancestor of the Arabs and Palestinians]. There is no biblical argument for that, so stop misusing scripture to justify injustice.
The clearer biblical argument is that God condemns injustice, murder, theft, and trusting in military might. If you are a person of faith, your first priority is to promote peace and justice.
If you find yourself rooting for or justifying a violent response from either side, then that’s a clue that something in your walk with God has gone off the rails. I encourage you to join me in praying for peace, encouraging your friends to take a deep breath, avoid angrily arguing, and avoiding demonizing either side. . . .
“I simply encourage you to do unbiased research, pray, and consider what it means to be a peacemaker.”
Does this mean we are meantime to do nothing? Merely mouth more empty “thoughts and prayers,” as for our own local gun massacres, while shooters reload for the next ones?
No. But while I do believe in thought, and prayer, do I have a “peace plan”?
Please. Unbiased research and learning to overcome the demonizing impulse are hard work enough. Then, with careful discernment, there are groups and projects which will take our donations or labor, and use them to help treat the wounded, assist the refugees, and — once the fighting stops (or pauses, til the next explosion) — begin re-laying what one can still hope is a foundation for a different, peaceable order — one which, if it comes, may take generations to develop.
Finally, the memes. Here are my convictions in motto form, to fit modern micro attention spans:
1. May the fiery fevers of war be quenched.
2. Free all the hostages and political prisoners.
3. Relief and succor for all the children, the wounded, the displaced and the traumatized.
4. Safety for Israel.
5. Justice for Palestine.
6. No to the Either/Or binary.
7. Pushback on antisemitism and islamophobia.
8. Take a breath, and repeat.
Do these fit seamlessly together? Life — and what passes for “Truth” today, as the Christian Century points it, are not like that. So with these, I’ll walk one day at a time, and labor to maintain faith in my version of the venerable Quaker notion that Way Will Open.