Dennis C. Sasso

Reflections on the violence in the Middle East

The tragic events taking place in the Middle East are painful for us to witness, how much more so for those who endure.   They are complex and intractable. They demand attention, short- and long-term solutions.  They are not just about immediate causes, but about historic antagonisms, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities.

Missiles of destruction flying out of and into Gaza, violence in the streets, families fleeing to shelters, the cries of children, the flow of blood, the smell of death that fill the streets and saturates the grieving heart.

The news and commentary about the confrontation often exhibit a one-sidedness that blames Israel without holding Palestinians to account. Or it discounts the pain and grievances of Palestinians. There is little nuance, no moral context.

It is lamentable that events spiraled out of control during the end of the season of Ramadan, a sacred time for our Muslim neighbors, on the eve of Israel’s seventy-third anniversary of independence, and in advance of the Festival of Shavuot, when we celebrate the gift of Torah and its teachings of peace.

This is a time for leadership to work toward a resolution of the conflict that protects both Israeli and Palestinian lives, that honors the faiths of various traditions in a Land we hold sacred.  It is a time to advance the legal and humanitarian claims of Palestinians without discounting or demonizing Israel’s rights to exist or to protect herself.

This is a time to avoid false moral equations between Hamas, a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel, and a sovereign nation committed to democratic aspirations.  This is a time to reject false equivalencies between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American racial politics.  This is not about racial politics; it is a geopolitical struggle between neighbors who share much in terms of ethnicity and culture. Grafting our social and political prejudices onto it, distorts, complicates, and agitates.

This is a time for us, across faith traditions, to stand in critical solidarity with one another.  We can be critical of actions on both sides without denying either side the justice of its claims and aspirations, the rights of both peoples to live in dignity, security, and peace. May vision and courage, common sense and goodwill prevail among all, temper hatred and curtail violence.

Judaism enjoins us not merely to hope for peace, but to seek and pursue it.  The definition of “heroism” offered by our sacred sources is not about military prowess, but about the courage it takes to “turn an enemy into a friend.” There are seeds of friendship on the ground, Israeli Jews, Muslims and Christians, Arabs and Palestinians who work with one another.  This does not make the headlines.  Let us help to cultivate these efforts and cause them to flourish.

In the words of Psalmist, let us:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you find peace.
May there be well-being within your ramparts, harmony in your citadels.
For the sake of my kin and my friends,
I pray for your well-being.
For the sake of the House of the Eternal God,
I seek your good.” (Psalm 122: 6-9)

About the Author
Dennis Sasso is Senior Rabbi Emeritus at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis, Indiana. He is Affiliate Professor of Jewish Studies at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.