Eliyahu’s Answer

I find myself in heated discussion, conversations that increasingly deteriorate in the comment boxes on the Internet into name-calling and much worst. Each side has its sacred calves and each in turn has a library full of bleak historical events to pull out, point to and utilize as unimpeachable evidence that they have truth and justice and the facts on their side. Israelis are dead. Palestinians are dead.

Where is the truth? The truth can be different for different people. 1948 means INDEPENDENCE to one set of people and CATASTROPHE to another. I know that one side won and the other lost and that it has had a pervasive impact on how each people live, see themselves and relate to the “other.” Recently, during his visit to the Holy Land, Pope Francis said;

“Let us learn how to understand the pain of others and no one will use violence in the name of God.”

Understanding the pain of others means talking to others and that means that two peoples have to be persuaded by their leaders to start a conversation that simply doesn’t exist today in an atmosphere of separation and anti-normalization. How do we begin? How do we remove the constraints and instead of persuading inspire real meaningful communication and real compassionate listening as an avenue to really understanding an “other?” It seems we aren’t anywhere near there right now in the midst of the present firestorm. But how can anyone advance unless and until they sit down with others and listen and learn and share and begin to recognize the humanity and not only an unending list of injustices piled so very high?

That brings us fast forward to the present appalling predicament. In my own efforts to promote tolerance I have encountered angry people on the right who want revenge for the dead boys and angry people on the left who believe the occupation is the cause of the conflict and that living under the weight of the occupation provides a rationale for bad behavior. While there is a difference between the freedoms of people living in Israel and the restrictions imposed on Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza it cannot and will not be made better through violence. Three Israeli boys have been kidnapped and killed. It appears in response a Palestine boy was kidnapped and killed. The State of Israel undertook a national quest to seek, find and return its boys; “Operation Brothers Keeper” and to use a euphemism; left no stone unturned, arresting over 400 Palestinians, searching over 2000 homes as well as countless caves and tunnels. In the process Israeli forces faced resistance on the ground that at times became violent and resulted in the death of Palestinians. A deadly exchange of rocket and missile fire also began between Gaza and the Negev that has resulted in more Palestinian deaths and devastation on all sides. It is easy to be caught up in the madness that compels so many in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to strike back in anger and in pain as a result of the killings, brutal beatings, ongoing destruction and outright terror. There is little doubt that at times actions require reactions as well. Years ago, in 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King took the biblical edict of an eye for an eye and a comment attributed to Gandhi and used it as a measure of the path to peace:

“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.” From Dr. King’s book; Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.

It is almost beyond sanity to seek and find one’s calm and be patient in the face of all this adversity even as one takes in the overwhelming grief on the faces of Bat-Galim Shaer, Iris Yifrah, and Rachel Fraenkel at the funeral of their sons. A Palestinian audience witnessed the same anguish on the face of Suha Abu Khdeir as she joined thousands to bury her boy a few days later.

We can try to seek the strength to be quiet and to work to help others to contain emotions that are overheated. We can look at examples from history and from our sacred books. But I was lucky enough to run across a real live example from someone I know. Last night I received a note on Facebook from my friend Eliyahu McLean, founder of Jerusalem Peacemakers and a man who spends his life bringing Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians together in search of peace:

“A scary moment just now: was on the bus home from a wonderful wedding and Shabbat in Tsfat, on my way back to Jerusalem tonight with my wife and two daughters and a bus full of Hasidim….when at ‘Ara junction in Wadi Ara our bus is pelted with rocks by Arab youth wearing keffiyahs. Four windows shatter, scattering glass on terrified passengers. A Hasid yells ‘everyone on the floor’ we crouch down with our kids, a lit molotov cocktail makes it into the bus onto the seat of a woman and child on their way to Rebbe Nachman in Uman… a quick thinking Hasid puts it out before any harm can be done. When we pull over on Hwy. 6 to switch buses, not one shout for revenge or hate…the young Haredi men and I dance in a circle and sing niggunim of thanks to G-d, such as “Tov L’Hodot Lashem u’lzamer l’shimcha elyon”…

A blessing and a miracle, to be followed by another:

“Some of my right-leaning Israeli brothers have given me flak for not responding to the attack on the bus I was traveling on last night (in Wadi Ara) with a vehement call for, or action, of revenge. Dont get me wrong. I am 100% for the security forces doing what they need to do to make sure all travelers on this and other roads will be safe. My response this morning, is to attack head on the hate I saw in those rioters eyes, my ‘revenge’ is this: meeting now with my Muslim partners from East Jerusalem, Ibrahim Abuelhawa and Raed, together with the Catholic program director of Tantur Institute to plan an interfaith Ramadan gathering, to honor each other in our faiths, to calm the atmosphere and return to sanity in the Holy Land…”

I know I’m not that good. But I can learn from Eliyahu as can we all.

About the Author
Larry Snider was President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace a non-profit based in suburban Philadelphia. Today he lives in New Jersey and is a Board Member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey.