Eyeless in Gaza, Heartless at Home

Posted: Jan 09, 2009 1:26 PM
Eyeless in Gaza, Heartless at Home

Creeped out: That's the best way I can describe my response upon stumbling into an anti-Israel protest one recent Sunday in Manhattan. Ranting picketers carried signs that made light of the Holocaust, children dressed up as Hamas militants dotted the crowd. I wanted to have a more profound response, a deeper analysis, but "creeped out" is how I felt walking away from it. Days later, a colleague, military historian Victor Davis Hanson, expressed a similar reaction to accounts of way too many similar scenes: We're living in "creepy times," he wrote on National Review's Web site.

It is indeed creepy that any protester, even understanding his anger and hurt, would minimize the Holocaust, and that the leader of Iran would hold a conference dedicated to denying it. It's creepy that Hamas would use a U.N. school for weapons storage and a shooting base, during the continuing battle with Israel for the Gaza Strip. It's creepy that the United Nations equates Israeli nationalism -- a constitutional republic's struggle for its right to exist unmolested -- with racism. It's creepy that few people can see the difference between Israel, which goes out of its way to avoid killing innocents, and Hamas, which displays a bloodlust for Jewish civilians.

But nothing is black and white, not even in the fight between Israel and Hamas. In a place many consider the holiest of lands, perpetual violence and hostility boil constantly. Humans hate easily; it's forgiveness (often understandably) that they have a tough time with. Out of those poisonous seeds grows vengeance. And while I don't hesitate to see a bad and good side politically and culturally in this issue, it remains true that Palestinian children are still children who deserve a shot at a decent life, even when -- driven by vengeance -- their guardians exploit them.

Israel seems to be able to recognize the moral complexity involved, even in spite of the countless, grievous wrongs it has suffered, and the world isn't giving it enough credit. Israelis, too, however, need to take a step back. For one thing, not every skeptical look at Israel's aggressive retaliation to Hamas missile attacks in Gaza stems from anti-Semitism. A lot of them, maybe even most of them -- are. Anti-Semitism has long been a particularly prevalent evil about which, despite "never again," we seem particularly desensitized in the West even as it is embraced enthusiastically in the Middle East and the Arab world. But this doesn't give Israel a carte blanche when it comes to military action or diplomacy. Though it may be difficult, cool heads need to prevail on all sides of this debate.

The tragic demise of Cristina, a 15-year-old Christian girl, was reported by an Internet news service, zenit.org, which covers the Vatican: "She died of a heart attack after days of cold and lack of sleep due to the bombardment." The Rev. Manuel Musallam, the parish priest of the Latin parish in Gaza, recently read an account of her death to Christian leaders in Jerusalem, urging peace. The Zenit report continued: "Cristina is one of the 600 Palestinians to have died in the 11-day Israeli offensive, in which U.N. and Palestinian officials report that nearly half of the dead are civilians."

There's nothing wrong with focusing on such blunt facts. I think we need to do so, whatever the nationality of the children involved; it keeps us aware of the human costs of war. Prudence and justice must be kept in mind at all times, whether actively engaged in fighting a war, or merely attempting to help negotiate the end of one. And while the Vatican, too, is receiving criticism -- for not fully weighing in on the conflict until violence had spiraled out of control -- we should remember here, as well, who the good guys are. The Vatican has rejected "anti-Semitism in all its forms, including anti-Zionism as a more recent manifestation of anti-Semitism."

I see little question that Israel is the good guy. It's not aiming to kill Cristina. It just wants its own girls to have a safe home. And, unsettlingly all too often, its opponent wants those girls (as well as its other citizens) dead, not as an unfortunate collateral casualty of war, but just to make a point. This should creep us all out -- and we should say as much. Isn't admitting a basic, unpleasant truth one of the Twelve Steps? That is, after all, a roadmap with some record of positive results -- very unlike the same old creepy pattern of hatred, resentment and vengeance now on display in the Holy Land.

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