Connecticut, Southern Israel, Gaza: “Violence Without Borders”

Yesterday’s gut-wrenching calamity – 20 Kindergartners shot dead – makes me think of nonviolence and major liberal Jewish take on the Middle Eastern conflict.

It was also Gandhi’s view—and Martin Luther King’s — that violence against the innocent is as  awful as all injustices it is seeking to ameliorate.

Some people seem to think that  “social conditions” — are more important and more real than the means used to change them.

But I believe that for liberal Jews – and for most Jews, who think about it –that is not true. That violence is as real and important as anything else.  That it is itself an actual and immoral “social condition.”

We, above most people, after millennia of pogroms and mob attacks and at last the Holocaust, are especially sensitive to being targeted by this — equally– real and important social condition.

For most Jews, I think, violence isn’t a symptom of some deeper social reality.  Instead violence is itself a deep  social reality.  And — that there cannot be a more immoral and more real social reality than violence

For many Jews, perhaps, violence is at — or near — the core of the conflict itself.

And just as much to consider are the parents of the dead Palestinian children of Gaza.

All the parents on both sides of the conflict – Israeli and Palestinian alike — are like those parents of the 20 Connecticut kindergartners shot dead.

One of my talismans for not getting sidetracked is to remember, which sounds so naive and simple and like a platitude, but is simply–not to hate.  I try to imagine what I would say if I were Thich Nhat Hanh, who visited Israel in 1997, or the Dalai Lama, who visited in 2006.

Sages can keep help keep us centered.  And ironically – so can atrocities. Above all they can stop us from hating.

Also looking at pictures of the innocent helps me keep balance.  I see pictures of wounded or crippled Sderot kids, or grainy black-and-white photos of Jewish kids during the Nazi period, or the adult living skeletons at the liberation of the death camps.  And the brains oozing out of a Gazan kid.

And it keeps me from ever neglecting these tragedies, and asking what the innocent did to deserve it—any more than in Connecticut.

When will atrocities bring peace?  And competent social policies?

There were – thank God – no pictures in those Connecticut classrooms. Or rather, none made public.

But there have been pictures in history of atrocities, and they have changed the course of wars and conflicts.  Or reshaped our views of them.

They include the body piles and living corpses in the liberated Nazi death camps. And the famous photo of the family whos members were holding up their hands in anguish, in the Warsaw Ghetto. There are the images of the humiliation of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, of  the police beating up Rodney King in Los Angeles, of the shooting of Muhammad al-Durrah that helped set off the Second Intifada, and Israel’s soldiers getting brutally, ruthlessly, beaten up on the the the Mavi Marmara on an attempted convoy to Gaza.

These pictures are evidence of their effect on our attitudes to history.

War photo-journalism probably began to have an effect on attitudes toward war — specifically, anti-War attitudes — during the Vietnam War.

The Wikipedia notes that the photo of the girl Phan Thị Kim  Phúc, “at about nine years of age running naked on a road after being  severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese napalm attack” appeared in the New York Times the following day and that President Richard Nixon wondered if it was “fixed,” won a Pulitzer Prize, and was an “iconic” photo that changed people’s view of the war.
During the Second Intifada, Israel sent a suicide-bombed bus on a Europe tour, which shows the country’s awareness  of the visual impacts.  But it is hard (but possible) to see images of the massacre of the family at Iatmar.

On my shelves is a book “Coming Home to Zion: A Pictorial History of Pre-Israel Palestine” by Abraham Shulman.

And I look at many pages of  black-and-white photos of migrants there, and including those of the most innocent, as on the last page– it looks like morning, there’s brilliant sun shining on a a kindergarten outdoor play space, called “Children of pioneers in Kibbutz Ein Harod, 1923.”

And I never forget to ask what they did to deserve to grow up into the world they did–and their children and grandchildren into today’s world.

Back in 1923.

And then back to the December, 2008 Gazan kid without the brains.

And now in Connecticut in December, 2012.

What has anyone done to deserve it? Any more than in Connecticut?

When will America get gun control?  When will America restore the level of care to its mentally ill that was taken away from them during the administration of Ronald Reagan?  When will we disarm the demented, care for them before they do harm, and stop the militant fanatics of the National Rifle Association?  Why don’t we grow up here in America?

And in Israel and Palestine:

When will the two sides grow up?  Stop rocketing. Stop bombing. Stop taking over land. Stop occupying. Stop the fanaticism, hate, intransigence,  anti-Arab racism, anti-Semitism, slaughter of families —  whether through bloody home invasions or death from the air raining down. Stop the rocket attacks, the bomb attacks. Stop the continuous land-grabs in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, and anti-Israeli terrorism — and the terrifying, always overhanging, threat of terrorism.

When will we all stop it?  And give our kids — American, Israeli, Palestinian — because they are all ultimately all our responsibility — a chance for hopeful lives and futures?

About the Author
James Adler was born in Kentucky, now works in university libraries, and feels especially and intensely bound up with the fate of the Jewish people in the last hundred years, especially the Shoah, the rise of Israel "out of the ashes," and the accidental and mutually tragic collision with the Palestinians in the early and middle of the 20th century, continuing through today. He is happily married and the father of two teenagers.