Watching the unfolding of the latest battle between Israel and Hamas from the safety of my armchair some 5000 miles away I can charge through dozens of heated Facebook posts and articles from left to right and back again and no matter what I do or say the worst outcome for me is to find it necessary to block the angry words of an overheated advocate. As the nursery rhyme reminds “words will never hurt me,” but right now about a thousand people are dead and thousands more have been wounded in a battle that began this time with the kidnapping and killing of three young Israeli students and the response of their government. How much is a carryover from the last conflict in 2012 and how much is the result of the failure of the latest American led peace initiative is a question of who’s judging. From my vantage point the finger pointing is understandable because death is the enemy of us all. So many have died, are dying, will die and a large majority of those deaths are Palestinians with far too many being civilians. It is the cost of entering an asymmetrical war in which Israelis wait under a constant rocket fire for the simplicity of the rockets to allow many to land harmlessly or for the hundreds fired at population centers like Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and even Haifa to be knocked out of the sky by the technological wizardry of the Iron Dome. In Gaza the drones drone on, the F-16s fly by and missiles hit carefully chosen targets with a regularity defining a major military power. But in the middle of this back and forth which has been augmented by a ground invasion, hundreds of buildings including dozens and dozens of houses are blown up causing what at best is being called collateral damage or the result of Hamas utilizing the people of Gaza as human shields. The pictures are gruesome and the death toll is mounting even as the field of targets in Gaza and Israel is expanding with each passing day.
I sit here safely writing these words while people in Israel are running to shelters and the people of Gaza are simply running for their lives. Pictures of dead and dying children are a cause for grief that is expressed from Rafah to Rishon LeZion and from Rome all the way to here in Philadelphia and on around the world. 24/7 news be it CNN with Wolf Blitzer reporting from Jerusalem, Al Jazeera or the old fashioned Jerusalem Post keep updating a public hungry for headlines. People are watching the war in real time though feeds to their I phones and the IDF even has an Ap that goes off each time a siren sounds the Code Red warning in Israel. No Ap’s for the people of Gaza with some 140, 000 or so having evacuated their homes for the relative safety of UNRWA schools. The images of Shujai’iya pulverized in the aftermath of Israeli attacks are hard to look at. Not everyone was saved by the telephone warnings as they continue to extract bodies from the rubble during Saturday’s cease fire. Trying simply to report the news is challenging whenever one focuses on a hospital in Gaza or a funeral in Israel. Maybe there is no truth beyond blame and death? There is a ghastly telescoping that accompanies war that focuses the eye, the mind and the heart on the absolute horror it leaves in its wake. In a way every witness even those of us lucky enough to be many miles removed from the fighting becomes a prisoner of the decent of two peoples into a war that strips each of us of our humanity as we look on at the unspeakable results.
And then we think of morality, and the values we hope we learned and respond to the awfulness by saying no more war, by advocating for peace, by demanding that the warriors put down their weapons. Others endorse a side and underline the justness of the cause. But those fighting and their leaders and ultimately all of us get caught up in the give and take of the anger and fear and hatred that may be well founded and lays several levels beneath the clean rationales that propel diplomats to defend their nation, their people and their cause. Gene Knudsen Hoffman, the founder of Compassionate Listening said; “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.” We have to really hear each other as people, Israelis and Palestinians along with the rest of us to make peace possible. To do it we have to travel beyond all we know and all that is secure to listen to the enemy, understand their humanity and begin a process of reconciliation that will allow us to live as neighbors and with great effort to become friends in time. There is a political process and there must be an accompanying public process that brings people and nations together in an act of discovery that is so much more. It is the only path to the survival of our species in a world that increasingly seems to be tearing itself apart. May we have the wisdom to listen to each other.