Let me tell you a secret. We all have the power to choose and we’d rather not. This strikes me as I read an article from the English Guardian posted by a friend of mine who lives in London. It was pro-Palestinian and anti–Israeli. It saw the root causes for the war in Israel’s occupation and treatment of the Palestinian people, and the journalist explained away the use of Hamas rockets as caused by said occupation. Now I bring you to the conversation on the Israeli street; faced with rockets aimed at them, a few hundred by now, most Israeli’s can’t wait for the IDF to go in to the Gaza Strip and “end this”. It runs the gamut from just wanting to do enough so they stop firing missiles at us, to wanting to annihilate them from the face of this earth.
“We have no choice”, says the man on the street. They have no choice, says the journalist and my friend who posts his words.
But we do. We have the most difficult one. From the dawn of conflict we have had a choice. From Malcolm X to Martin Luther King and from Gandhi to Nehru. From the Nasser to Sadat and from Rabin to Netanyahu. We have always had to choose between believing in non-violence as a means to an end, or believing in violence. The argument is difficult and pain-filled, the consequences often great. Will racism in America be defeated through peaceful marches or violent uprising? Will freedom from the yoke of the British Empire be achieved for India with salt marches or bombs? Throughout history we have been asked to choose, and pay the price. One could argue that Gandhi succeeded. Martin Luther King did as well. Has the Dalai Lama? His people are still caged by the Chinese. One could argue the IRA might have by choosing military conflict and terror. Did the PLO? Its people have some rights, but are still far from the dreamed of homeland. What one could not argue is that they didn’t make a choice on how to achieve their goals; To maim, kidnap or kill in the name of struggle or turn the other cheek and walk on in the face of bullets and blows.
Yet we would rather not choose. Instead, we find release through the decisions of others and in return explain them away as non-choice issues. Rather than saying: “I believe in blowing myself up in a crowded cafe, or that others do in my name”, or “I believe in bombing civilians with an air force”, we let others do it, let others pay the price of choosing, and in exchange, release them from the burden of responsibility. “Yes they killed them, but they had to”, goes the line. But there in lies the rub. At least those who chose war know they may cause war, and they may die in war. At least those who chose non-violence know they may lose everything in its pursuit. Nelson Mandela, the great South African leader paid both prices – he chose armed conflict and lost decades of his life in jail for it, then chose non-violence and risked the alienation of his compatriots and the loss of his dream for that. The great Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin did so as well, first fighting for years as a soldier, and then risking everything again by choosing non-violence in the pursuit of peace. Ultimately being assassinated because of it.
Why carry that burden? Why choose? Because only by choosing we receive the fruits of our choice, we rejoice if it works, despair if it doesn’t, change it if we can. By not choosing we don’t. Only by choosing we stop being spectators to our own lives, never on the field, never in play. “What would you have us do?!” says everyone. Choose. You have the power to choose. Say it. “I choose to kill them in the hopes that it might help”, or “I choose to talk to them in the hopes that it might help”. And by choosing take responsibility for its success or failure. Pay a price. Shoulder the burden. If Israel bombs Palestinians accept responsibility. If Hamas, after years of terror attacks is still no closer to peace, accept responsibility. Stand behind your choice. Stick by it, or change it. Stop living through the choices of others and explaining them away.
“Still”, says a good friend of mine, “sometimes there are fewer choices. Sometimes reality is harder.” It’s true. I see it now. As days get harder and darker people feel more helpless. “Lets get them” begins to sound like “Where is this going?” and that begins to sound like “When will it end?”. In Gaza I can only imagine it’s far worse. But it’s partly our fault. We gave others the field, those who wanted to choose. We went to sit on the bleachers, to watch from afar, and explain away their actions. But we must descend, we must join our lives, me must choose.