I spent a lot of last week having rich discussions with fellow Brethren in Christ about our denomination’s historic peace position. It was a stimulating discussion that at least showed me that nonviolence is not a hill on which our denomination’s leaders are willing to die. I’ve written about the cost of removing so-called auxiliary distinctions in an effort to grow and expand the church, and how that might leave us with just a generic shadow of ourselves, so I brought a significant level of passion to our discussion on the issue.
There is no question in my mind about the issue. When Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” he never means kill them. But we don’t live in a perfect world and people do shoot and kill their enemies. So what does one do? I suppose I continue to work for peace, advocate for policy that will make it occur on a large level.
I strongly believe that peace is a realistic response to violence. It’s not just ideological or idealistic. It’s the truth. But we know the world is not so black and white. We are more than just violent or not. The conflicts in the Middle East shows us this. The violence that British and French imperialists did when they arbitrarily divided the Ottoman Empire after it fell is one kind of violence. Apparently, nations need their own states or they won’t get along. The military dictatorships installed in the Middle East were an attempt to maintain order in the new nation states, by and large to protect corporate interests in the region. That’s another level of violence. Suppressing Islamist groups is more violence. Those oppressed Islamists rising up to build new nations—precisely like ISIS is doing—and doing violence against another nation left without a country, the Kurds, is still another layer of violence. The situation is mirrored in Syria, where you have the brutal dictator Assad against numerous rebel groups, who are not united in mission, technique, or ideology.
The conflict that rages in Palestine is even more complicated. The post-Holocaust Jewish people needed a home. The British made them one in Israel, which has been attacked by the surrounding Arab nations since its inception. The Palestinian people have been oppressed through the warring of Arab and Israeli leaders. The nation-to-nation violence has ended in the Middle East for the most part, following Egyptian President Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel in 1978. The United States has a lot of interest in the Middle East and has a political partnership with Israel and Egypt to maintain peace in the region. It is Israel’s biggest ally in their struggle.
These days, with the Middle East stuck in Civil War (like in Syria), newly forming military dictatorships (like in Egypt), nations deeply entrenched in their oil interests (like Saudi Arabia), war-torn nations from quagmire efforts (like in Iraq), protests to the injustice that the Palestinians experience manifests itself in a variety of ways. When Israel is attacked and three children are killed like they were this time, the Jewish state is absolutely relentless in its counter-attack; that counter-attack is often backed by U.S. weapons. Palestinians keep being killed and displaced and Hamas is the fundamentalist stereotype that many Palestinians want nothing to do with.
It’s hard to observe the conflict and not take sides. Even more tempting is to assume that because both warring parties are violent, they are equally wrong. We might be convinced to claim a “third way,” and just denounce both sides equally because they are violent. In my view, violence is never justified. But the Zionist argument is clearly biased, the situation is not that cut and dry. But defending Hamas? I’m not sure you can easily do that either. Nicholas Kristof’s argument seems to make the most sense to me. Hamas is out of the line and doesn’t represent Palestinians, truly. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority suffers from incompetence as well. The Israeli government is off-the-wall and using a level of force that’s unjustifiable, even if you are a just warrior. The level of power the Israeli’s are leveling, coupled with the endless support the U.S. gives them, provides a level of tyranny over the Palestinian people that is unmatched. Hamas’ actions cannot be justified, but the harm the state of Israel is inflicting onto regular Palestinians is evil. The Onion, as usual, may have put it best in this headline: Israel’s, Hamas’ Disregard For Palestinian Life Aligning Nicely.
Is there a right and wrong side in the Middle East? I doubt it. Are there power differences that can color precisely how we value the variety of violences present in the situation? Certainly the widely protected, supported, and resourced Israel has an upper-hand in the conflict. The desperate cry of the Palestinians is muted by the equally desperate theocratic aspirations of Hamas. Wanting to wipe the entire state of Israel off of the planet? Not the most peaceful goal. The answer in the Middle East may not be a moderate response, however; but the solution is probably not being presented in the loudest voices here. The interest of the displaced people in Palestine must be considered, primarily. Unfortunately, the monied interests in the Middle East, in Israel and Palestine, benefit from the turmoil. So it seems to me like peace may not even be a third way in the Middle East, it might be a fourth or fifth!
I’m thankful I’m a Christian in the middle of this conflict because death isn’t a threat to me. The warring sides intensify one another to the point of complete indefensibility. But just because Hamas and Israel cannot be defended, doesn’t mean that there is no one to defend. Christians should be defending the innocent who are caught between what amounts to a horrific example of a dysfunctional relationship. Support MCC as it does good work there advocating for free movement and the removal of Israeli settlements that displace Palestinians. Pray for the Palestinians and Israelis, pray for peace. Lobby Washington and ask them to support a peaceful solution, not Israel’s right to defend itself which is the toxin both sides of aisle spew. Finally, let’s not try to get caught up in sides of the conflict, but also remain conscious that both sides, and their violence, are not equal.