18 October 2023

Al Ahli Hospital and the search for villains

Screenshot from source.  
Statement from the Patriarchs and
Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem

Yesterday's statement from the patriarchs and heads of the churches in Jerusalem, concerning the missile strike and resulting loss of life at the Al Ahli Anglican Episcopal Hospital in Gaza, is blunt:

"We unequivocally declare this atrocity as an egregious crime. one demanding the severest censure and international accountability."

I read the full statement carefully, but found no direct accusation of blame. Censure and accountability imply that those guilty must be identified. So, who are they?

The prevailing assumption among Palestinians is that Israeli forces are responsible for the attack. The cancer center at the hospital had already been hit by an Israeli missile several days earlier. And all of this was against the backdrop of over 3,000 casualties already resulting from Israeli air strikes against the Gaza Strip.

Israeli claims are also weakened by their own intelligence failures around the original October 7 attacks by Hamas against Israel. If their constant surveillance and infiltration of radicals in Palestine proved inadequate to prevent Hamas's atrocities, why should we believe in their precision targeting now? Even if Israel has no intention to hit hospitals and schools, they're nevertheless being hit.

On the other hand, nobody could claim that the rockets used by Palestinian militants are accurate, and a misfire in the Al Ahri case is not at all out of the question. A significant minority of rockets fired at Israel fall short and land in the Gaza Strip.

Complicating all of this is everyone's investment in one villain or another. Israel is blamed by those who want to blame Israel; Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are blamed by those who want to see Israel cleared of blame. Those of us who honestly don't know who is guilty and aren't willing to assign blame based on our political loyalties, do not have the resources to investigate independently.

It is worth the effort to find out whose willful action or whose deadly mistake resulted in all that sudden death and destruction. Terrorism (whether by non-state actors or by governments) must not become normal. I hope and expect that the same care that went into investigating Malaysian Airlines flight 17 should be applied to Al Ahli.

However, we do know some things:

Israel chose to respond to the Hamas crimes of October 7, not by finding and arresting the culprits, as befits the role of the power controlling the territory from which the crimes were launched, but by (functionally) declaring war against that territory.

Israel uses the language of "war" as if the Gaza Strip were an independent, sovereign country, which it is not. The civilian population of Gaza depends on Israel for its security and well-being, and Israel's government has made it very clear that these people and their security and well-being have no priority in comparison to the rest of Israel's territory. Their lives don't count in the same way.

Israel's allies who see the danger of this moment for the people of Gaza are pleading for concessions such as the restoration of water and electricity (water alone is not enough; water pumps require electricity, water trucks require fuel) and the opening of the Rafah crossing point with Egypt. Whether or not any of these pleas get satisfied, the overall context remains: Gaza is still a zone where Israel corruptly believes it has the right to ignore international law.

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and several other militant groups claim to provide the defense and protection that Gaza would have if it were a country. But they too do not carry out the function of a protective force within international law. In opposition to the  Palestinian Authority, they reject any collaboration with Israel, and in fact claim to be pursuing the mythical goal of eliminating Israel altogether. They too show no concern for civilian life. 

For Palestinians who are have little hope for a future under Israeli occupation, it's understandable that they might see the militants as the only people actually showing some resistance. For this symbolic comfort, they are apparently willing to let millions of their own neighbors suffer as the militants' fake armies poke Israel in the eye in the service of their myth. So they poke, and Israel bombs, and they poke again, and Israel bombs again, and innocent people die.

There are Israelis who see the full absurdity of this spectacle, especially in light of biblical ethics, and their own history. Likewise, there are Palestinians who also are not fooled by the myths and deceptions of those who see violence as the key to a better future. My best hope is that we who follow the Prince of Peace will keep finding ways to connect these prophets and peacemakers across all the lines that separate them. In times of despair, it's especially important to let them know they are not alone.

Politically, it's important to remind our own legislators that our tax money must reflect our values and our commitment to international law. (In the USA's case, the billions of dollars in military aid that flow to Israel annually are supposedly conditional on those values.)

Spiritually, it's important to be just a bit humble. When we see huge spectacles of violence here or there, we know that the myth of redemptive violence is having a field day. But that myth is widespread. We ourselves often let it gain inroads into the ways we treat each other, our political opponents, even ourselves. If we feel tempted to despair, let's take the time to remind ourselves of God's love for us and for our enemies. Let's claim our God-given authority to demand that the spirit of violence, of revenge, of cheap shortcuts to win conflicts, be ordered to leave our bodies, our homes, our world.

Speaking of being humble... It may be easy to criticize Israel's leaders for the inhumane and vindictive spirit of their response to the atrocities of October 7. Then I had to remember how the USA responded to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The rush to violence is not peculiar to any one country or region. It's normal behavior for our species. Our challenge as peaceworkers and evangelists is to make available a whole new way of regarding each other, a Divine source of energy for the ministry of reconciliation, and communities near and far who support each other in this way of life.

Lon and Raelene Fendall at Camp Tilikum, 2017. Source.

Raelene Fendall, our wonderful friend of many years, died on September 26. Nineteen days later, on October 15, Lon Fendall joined her on that same eternal path. Their memorial meeting is scheduled for October 28, 2 p.m., at West Chehalem Friends Church, Newberg, Oregon.

Japanese Maple, by Lucy Davenport. Source.

Friends Committee on National Legislation offers a briefing on the war in Israel and Gaza. October 25 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Ahmad Amara, an Israeli Palestinian: Gaza is a test of human morality.

Baptist News: Unlike American evangelicals, religious bodies from Quakers to Catholics urge care for Palestinians and Jews alike.

Gaza in Quaker history: American Friends Service Committee's work with refugees in 1949. (A related film.)

Parker J. Palmer on becoming civilized. (Thanks to Faith Marsalli for the link.)

Why do we persist in trying to “solve” problems with violence, despite the fact that violence threatens our survival? That question has several valid answers. But the one I want to pursue here has yet to get its due and takes us directly to a key function of the spiritual life: violence arises when we do not know what else to do with our suffering.

Why Christian families should consider secular universities: Chris Gehrz interviews InterVarsity's Joe Thackwell.

The Quakers of Newmarket, Ontario, paid a price for their pacifism.

Lucy Davenport on bonsai as icon.

"I've been falling and rising all these years, but you know my soul looks back in wonder, how did I make it over?" Mahalia Jackson.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post of yours was of peculiar interest to me, first of all, as a Christian! It helps to better understand the present political situation without jumping to conclusions. God bless you, Judie and sons!!!
Best regards from all of us: Olga, Arsentiy and me.
Our thoughts are with you!!!