What started out as a pained plea to gain the understanding and agreement of the world ended up as a testimony to the inquiry and clarification journey inside myself.
The more I tried to explain and articulate why Israel has to do what it’s doing, I found that I believed in it less and less.
Some might scorn me for this; others praise. No matter.
Here’s the result.
There is a tale told in Jewish mysticism about how in the World to Come those that have been damned to hell are let out just for the 24 hours of shabbat every week. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday they are allowed to join the righteous in the more blissful of heavenly realms.
A military jet plane flying overhead towards the close of shabbat reminded me that I hadn’t heard a plane all day. (During the past seven weeks the sounds of them have been heard every couple of hours more or less) And it reminded me of this story.
It made me think a whimsical thing – imagine everyone just stopped all their fighting every shabbat. Left behind their earthly hells and transcended collectively to a self-made Heaven on Earth each Saturday. Put aside their weapons, returned every displaced family and hostage to their homes, magically restored lives and rebuilt ruins. Spent the day with family and friends, singing songs and eating good food and taking sweet walks and resting and loving.
An insane fantasy. Impossible of course. And the obvious question that follows is – if we could, if we did, why would we not just continue forever afterwards in this beautiful bubble of peace rather than revert to our heartbreaking warring ways?
The answer is obvious too. No-one is ready or able to give up their opposing positions and so the fighting continues.
I don’t like sides. I don’t like the concept of taking sides.
But for the sake of understanding the playing field (or battlefield), let’s take a quick not-fun second to loosely scan the terrain of beliefs which I am totally sure I cannot do justice to.
On one extreme are those who fully believe that all Arabs want every Israeli dead and Israel destroyed, and that this desire is motivated by some kind of pure unnamable evil, and/or religious fanaticism.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who consider Hamas to be heroes fighting to liberate their nation from the terrible, ongoing abuse and occupation of Israel. And, that the violence of Hamas is emerging in equal measure to the pain that Israel has inflicted upon their people.
Of course, both extremes fail to make room for the nuances, factions or individuals on either side.
In between these blatant polarities is a wild and confusing mix.
Has Israel stolen the homeland of the Palestinians? Do radical Islamists secretly intend to spread their doctrines and directives world-wide? Is Israel re-enacting their own historical traumas onto their neighbours? Are the Palestinians themselves being robbed and terrorised by Hamas and wish to be free of their tyranny? Is the Israeli army trying to protect the innocent while uprooting a dangerous terror network, or are they acting indiscriminately and with vengeance? Is the devastation of Israel’s colossal military operation bound to create even further hatred and violence towards herself? Is it true that radical Islamists hold in highest value the sacrificing of individual life for a greater cause? And are the values of Israelis really the total opposite of this? Have sinister and hidden parties sown these seeds of hate, blame, and death-worship in order to create chaos and conflict from which they gain financial benefit and strategic global power? If Hamas and the Israeli government would/ could step aside would the regular folks find a peaceful way forward?
Deep breath here.
Why we see as we do
Rare is the one who possesses the cool self awareness required to check and probe the roots and validity of their own convictions. Or even the desire to do so.
Rare is the person with that important combination of exposure to varied media content, the ability to discern and think for themselves, and also the emotional container necessary to process huge horror, pain, and heartbreak without moving into panic, accusation, and revenge.
One of the results of having been through what we’ve been through is the cold, sobering knowledge that not far away at all are some who’d prefer us and ours dead rather than alive. And wouldn’t hesitate to make that desire reality in a very brutal way.
In light of that fact, the ‘why’ of it becomes a much less pressing issue than safekeeping the most sacred thing of all which of course is life itself. And who is grown and brave and humble enough to say – All life.
It is understandable that being so close to the knife wound in this bleeding heart of the world, the immediacy of the pain of desecration inflicted leads to the assurance of physical self protection taking automatic and necessary precedence to anything else.
But who possesses the mastery to take pause and ask – what will truly assure our safety?
Not just for today and tomorrow, but for generations ahead.
Who possesses the open heartedness to say – not just for us, but also for them.
And yet. Many are able to host the breadth, complexity and intensity of what this experience is without the need to delegitimise the pain or challenge of any individual or collective.
Many are capable of considering the various political, historical, and lineage narratives behind this tragedy through which we are gratefully living and arrive at the recognition that –
It doesn’t matter.
What matters is what is, and how we’d like things to be, and what steps we might take towards a genuinely positive direction forward.
And we know.
War doesn’t bring peace.
Peace brings peace.
We get it
It is not at all difficult to understand the inevitable line of reasoning that has led to the current choices and actions of Israel and the IDF.
Israel was thrown into confrontation with the horrific and shocking realisation of the grave danger of underestimating the capabilities of Hamas (on a military level and on a psychological level), if that’s what it was. And the results of a lapse in vigilance on the part of Israeli security forces, if that’s what it was.
Following this comes the urgent conclusion that as long as Hamas are not significantly dismantled, Israel will never be safe.
(I hope I’m wrong when I surmise that maybe following this also comes an egoic compensatory need to prove superior might?)
I wish I happened to know that there was a moment when the Israeli government seriously asked itself whether its enemies could be disabled through any means other than a violent one. I don’t.
And as one who wasn’t given the weighty responsibility of that assessment, I confess to a grateful relief knowing that an army and police force are out there dedicated to protecting my safety.
Like when a mighty father chases away the imaginary baddies in a dark childhood bedroom, this relief is of course a superficial one, because it does not address the root of the problem.
And I hope I speak for many of us when I say that it is possible to be real about how things feel on this side, and at the same time to remain devoted to beholding with nightmarish awareness and guilty horror the huge and terrible price being paid towards achieving that safety.
To remain devoted to the heart’s demand to look and not turn away from it: Death, destruction, suffering and massive crisis on the other side of the border.
Someone asked me – how can Israel justify this? But it’s not the right question.
This is not about justice.
There can be no justice for what has been.
None of this is just because there is no way to make right the kinds of wrongs that have happened and are happening.
There can only be the protection of life. That’s all.
And if it was you. Being handed the most horrible choice, between killing or being killed. What would you do?
Is it realistic or good to expect any nation to extend its loyalty beyond just herself?
To see beneath its underlying assumptions and narratives that inform its scope of choice?
I pray that the answer to this question might one day be yes.
Armies are made of people
I look into the beloved faces of the boys and men, girls and women, who are our soldiers.
I pray for them to return to us unharmed in body and soul. There’s no guarantee, and this too, of course, is the price being paid.
The soldiers whose grasp of the dangers being faced is far more informed and extensive than mine can ever be.
The soldiers who recognise that for better or worse they are prisoners of a certain kind.
The soldiers who must choose to place all their courageous cooperation and ethical agreement into the missions that they are assigned.
For to not choose this stance of unfailing allegiance is to endanger themselves and their units.
And it breaks my heart to know that when they get sent where they get sent, the whatsapp chats going eerily silent while we wait wracked with anxiety for their return, others see on these precious faces a pursuer, a threat, someone to fear, hate and blame.
When I encounter Palestinians, (And we do. Yes even still now – bus drivers, store clerks, customer service reps, bureaucratic workers, construction guys) I wish I could speak the unspoken. I wish that I could reach through the scary and palpable tension between us, and communicate query and care and kindness and human connection and commonality. I wish I could magically create a safe bridge on which we could meet halfway.
But also. Alongside the goodwill, I encounter unmistakable mistrust and fear in me. And this is valid and deserves recognition and space. It doesn’t come from nowhere.
It comes from living through attack after hideous attack reaching that most unimaginably terrifying climax. It comes from hearing true accounts of assumed loyal Palestinian employees or co-workers turning on their Israeli associates. It comes from circumstantially never having made friends with, or learned the language and culture of my Palestinian neighbours. It comes from having no real way to know whether the Palestinians I meet love the speeches of those murderous spokesmen or are appalled by them.
And so, at least for me, that dreamed-of bridge is sadly still just a dream for now.
I hope not forever.
On behalf of whom?
When I see and hear the current Israeli slogan “Together we will succeed!”, the response that arises in me is not in small part one of cynicism. It is a voice inside that says:
Yeah, unity is awesome, and can I see the fine print please?
Who kills whom to get what they want.
What won’t we speak about.
And who don’t we care about.
But when I soften into the sadness beneath the anger, I also recognise the bind of it all. The heartbreaking tenacity of this deeply traumatised yet persistently life-loving nation.
And when I soften into the grief beneath the great sadness, there’s a soft resigned sigh.
How can I really hope to arrive at some kind of comprehendible rightness and remedy to all this?
I probably can’t. My perspective is informed by circumstance and is likely as subjectively limited as anyone else’s.
I can only do my best to deduce from what I see and hear and read and intuit, and to tentatively feel my way through.
And hopefully to offer something useful emerging from that attempt.
I wish someone would come and point out the blind spots and errors of my thinking and shed light onto some new and simple path lying before us that we just hadn’t noticed till now. But from what I can tell with my finite scope, it’s just too late.
We have come too far to turn back.
We (as in all the We’s) have come too far to turn back and so, the only path forward is a militant one.
There is one more thing that I can do.
It’s to be really still and listen.
Because it’s only from the deep inside place and never from the cognitive one that the sense of light expansive relief offers a sudden inner clearing of breath and peace amidst the noisy chaos.
In the centre of me lies a heart. When I sense into her I find that she is trembling with enormous overwhelm; I encourage her courage. And see that she is searching for her place here among the ruins. Searching for her voice; and an opening where her lamp of guidance is welcome.
And what she says is this:
We mourn this journey as we walk it.
It is happening.
No matter what the way ahead is, the only way is the heart way.
There is only one thing now.
To walk it with the most exquisite beauty, nobility, and love possible.